In June 1960, Japanese Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke was looking forward to signing a new security treaty with the United States, replacing the earlier 1951 treaty. When it came to popular public opinion in Japan, however, it wasn’t a smooth sail. Although, the treaty was signed and did survive unscathed, it was constantly being attacked by the anti-treaty movement.
The Cold War
Prime Minister Nobusuke bore the major brunt of this anti-treaty movement. It gained momentum owing to four key reasons. The first of which was the changing battle lines of the Cold War.
Few Japanese wanted to join the communist side of the Cold War. But the idea of navigating a middle course—allowing Japan to remain close to the United States but not in opposition to the Soviet Union and China—had much wider appeal.
Japan and the Non-Aligned Movement
The option to remain neutral was especially intriguing because of the rise of the non-aligned movement, where several major Asian nations—including India and Indonesia—sought to create a group of countries that refused to choose sides in the Cold War.
In Japan, however, the non-aligned movement became a way to criticize its alliance with the US. Dissenters questioned why were India and Egypt free of Western military bases but Japan wasn’t. And given its incredible postwar recovery, why wasn’t Japan leading the non-aligned movement?
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The second reason why things got so messy for Nobusuke was the relatively strong showing by the USSR in the late 1950s.
The USSR was the first country to put a satellite in space in 1957. It was also the first, in 1960, to send animals into orbit and bring them back safely. Additionally, the Soviet technological challenge had military implications as well. The CIA was flying high-altitude spy missions over the USSR, convinced that Russian anti-aircraft missiles could not reach 70,000 feet. The CIA was wrong.
On May 1st, 1960, the Russians shot down a U-2 spy plane and captured the pilot, Francis Gary Powers. That was a huge embarrassment to the US, and a propaganda coup for the USSR. It also happened just as Nobusuke was trying to get the new security treaty with the United States approved by the Japanese Diet.
So, for an ordinary Japanese observer, there were real reasons to be leery of renewing a close relationship with the US against the USSR.
The Girard Case and an Anti-base Sentiment
A third factor was a rise in tensions around US military bases. The GIs behaved badly and angered the local population. But two particular incidents made the bases headline news at just the wrong time with respect to the new treaty.
The first was the so-called Girard Incident or Girard Case. In January 1957, Specialist 3rd Class William S. Girard thought it would be fun to terrorize some Japanese civilians who had entered his military base to collect scrap metal. Girard had another soldier toss some brass shell casings and then fired an empty casing from his rifle-mounted grenade launcher at the local Japanese who came close to collect them. He hit Naka Sakai, a mother of six, and killed her.
This would have been a tragedy under any circumstances, but Girard was like a caricature of an ugly American, and he couldn’t stick to a coherent story about the incident. The case was so damning, and Girard such a bad defendant, that President Dwight Eisenhower decided the US had to turn Girard over to the Japanese criminal system.
Still, for most of 1957, a major Japanese news item was the story of a reckless and violent American GI. It was the worst possible PR for a new treaty.
The Sunagawa Struggle
The subsequent incident, the Sunagawa Struggle, involved a plan to extend the runway at a US military base in Tachikawa. The runway expansion plan required the confiscation of farmland, and the eviction of more than 100 families, mostly in the village of Sunagawa. Protests against the runway extension attracted support from the radical left and center left. And since Tachikawa was near Tokyo, thousands of university students joined in.
The farmers were a sympathetic cause. And so the United States gave up on the base expansion: quietly, at first, and then officially. The anti-treaty movement had just scored a major victory.
The fourth reason things got so messy was Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke himself. He was a machine politician, rising to power by controlling his party’s finances, not by being persuasive or charismatic or loved or respected. He had a terrible relationship with the press, and he had a dreadful political past.
To make matters worse, Nobusuke’s wartime record made him a juicy target for the Japanese left. He also rekindled public fears of war because he was an advocate of revising the Japanese constitution to eliminate Article 9, the renunciation of war. The very fact that the treaty was Nobusuke’s treaty gave the opposition a huge cudgel.
Thus, all these factors combined not only fueled, but also strengthened the anti-treaty movement. And yet, in spite of this, the treaty was signed. The 1960 security treaty, in fact, proved to be one of the most durable treaties in modern history and is still in force more than six decades later!
Common Questions about the 1960 US-Japan Security Treaty and the Anti-treaty Movement
The non-aligned movement was where several major Asian nations—including India and Indonesia—sought to create a group of countries that refused to choose sides in the Cold War. In Japan, however, the non-aligned movement became a way to criticize its alliance with the US.
In January 1957, US soldier William S. Girard fired empty casing to terrorize some local Japanese who came to collect scrap metal at his military base. He hit a woman, which killed her. The case was so damning that President Dwight Eisenhower decided to turn Girard over to the Japanese criminal system.
Kishi Nobusuke’s wartime record made him a juicy target for the Japanese left. He also rekindled public fears of war because he was an advocate of revising the Japanese constitution to eliminate Article 9, the renunciation of war.